With NHL training camps starting to get under way and the start of the 2019-20 NHL season less than a month away, it is time to look back at the offseason and see what every team did to improve. We assign a grade for all 31 NHL teams. See which teams received a passing mark and which teams did not make the grade.
This could be another long season for the Ducks. Their big move this summer was buying out Corey Perry’s contract, and they really didn’t add anything to a team that was one of the worst in the NHL last. year. Ryan Kesler won’t play, Ryan Getzlaf is a year older, and it is going to be up to John Gibson and Ryan Miller in net to carry this team to respectability. They are a great goalie duo, but they may not be great enough to do the impossible.
Acquiring Phil Kessel has given the organization a much-needed boost at the box office and has the potential to do the same on the ice. The Coyotes have not had an impact offensive player like this in more than a decade. His addition, the under-the-radar pickup of Carl Soderberg and what will hopefully be some better health luck might be just enough to get this young, exciting team over the hump and back to the playoffs. They also committed to another part of their young core by signing Clayton Keller to a huge long-term contract extension.
Not much here to evaluate. The Bruins lost a couple of depth players to free agency but are mostly returning the same team that was one game away from winning the Stanley cup. They might take a step back just because it is difficult to go through that postseason gauntlet two years in a row, but they are still going to be a contender. They just have not really added much this offseason.
They paid a huge price to re-sign Jeff Skinner, but he seems to work really well with Jack Eichel. Marcus Johansson, Colin Miller and Jimmy Vesey are nice complementary additions to the core of Eichel, Skinner and Rasmus Dahlin. It was a good offseason and they should be a better team, but I am not sure they added enough to close the gap between them and the top teams in the Atlantic Division or the top wild-card teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Flames were outstanding a year ago, but a lot of things went right to help them climb to the top of the Western Conference standings. Will all of that happen again? Their big offseason moves were bringing in Cam Talbot to replace Mike Smith in net and trading James Neal for Milan Lucic. Hardly the type of moves that should excite fans and convince them that the team can take the next step this season.
They will be without some important players from last year’s team (Justin Williams, Curtis McElhinney, and Micheal Ferland) but they did find some solid replacements in Erik Haula, Ryan Dzingel and James Reimer. They also added to an already stacked defense by signing Jake Gardiner to a four-year contract in early September. Their biggest offseason win, though, was the Montreal Canadiens signing Sebastian Aho to a restricted free agent offer sheet they were easily able to match, helping them avoid a summer of painful contract negotiations and getting their franchise player locked in on a team-friendly contract.
The Blackhawks are banking heavily on their core still being good enough to win. Instead of making big changes and going for a rebuild, they worked to improve their defense with Olli Maatta, Calvin de Haan and the addition of goaltender Robin Lehner. The Blackhawks were one of the worst defensive teams in the league a year ago and are hoping these additions can help them improve enough to complement their offense.
The Avalanche are beginning to emerge as a power in the Western Conference with their young core of superstars led by Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. They added to that this summer with the additions of Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi and Nazem Kadri to bolster their forward depth. Combined with a young defense that will feature Cale Makar, Sam Girard, and eventually Bowen Byram (No. 4 overall pick this summer), they should be a Stanley Cup contender for the foreseeable future.
This is a tough one. Gustav Nyquist was a strong free agent addition, but this team was gutted in the offseason with Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene all moving on. They still have a strong core of young players, especially on defense with Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, but goaltending is going to be a huge question mark.
The Stars were the most top-heavy team in the NHL last season and needed to do something to address the lack of depth. They hopefully did that with the additions of Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry. Their impact will ultimately depend on how much both players have left in their tanks in their late 30s, but they at least tried to address their biggest shortcoming from a year ago.
This is only so high because they managed to get Steve Yzerman to return to Detroit and oversee this rebuild. He is one of the league’s top general managers and should give Red Wings fans reason for long-term hope. In the short-term? This is almost the exact same team that has been one of the league’s worst for three years now. Yzerman has a full cupboard of draft picks and some intriguing young talent in the system, but the NHL roster is as weak as it has been in years.
Ken Holland has his hands full with this rebuild. The team made a couple of OK depth signings and took a chance on James Neal rebounding from a down year in Calgary (dumping Milan Lucic's albatross contract in the process), but Edmonton needs a lot more than that. The roster around Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is as weak as it has been over the past two years and there is little reason to think the results on the ice are going to be any different. This looks like another wasted year of McDavid’s prime.
There are real questions about how long Sergei Bobrovsky’s contract will be a good value, but in the short term he satisfies Florida's biggest need. This team is good enough to make the playoffs this season with competent goaltending, and Bobrovsky should be able to provide that. Along with a franchise goalie, the Panthers also lured Hall of Fame coach Joel Quenneville to Florida and made a couple of solid depth signings with Brett Connolly and Anton Stralman. With Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau back, anything short of the playoffs would be a disappointment.
Other than hiring Todd McLellan as head coach, the Kings did nothing to fix what was one of the NHL’s worst teams a year ago. They have been stale for more than four years now and have been badly in need of a rebuild. That process still has not started. They are banking heavily on bounce back years from Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick, and while all three should be better than they were, improvements from them alone will not be enough to get them back in the playoffs.
Mats Zuccarello is a decent enough signing, but he is another big-money player on the wrong side of 30, something the team already has too many of. The Wild also fired general manager Paul Fenton after just one miserable season, making the organization look like it is kind of directionless. Fenton was replaced by Bill Guerin. Guerin is obviously an unknown, but he is going to have a lot of work to do in cleaning up the mess Fenton left behind.
I want to give them credit for being bold and signing Carolina’s Sebastian Aho to a restricted free agent offer sheet, but it was such a lame effort that was so easy for the Hurricanes to match that I can’t even give them credit for that. In fact, it makes me actually lower their grade. As if that wasn’t enough, they also made a run at free agent Jake Gardiner only to have him turn them down to sign with, you guessed it, Carolina. Their big addition was Ben Chiarot. Jesperi Kotkaniemi could be ready for a breakout season, but there might be some regression from Max Domi and Tomas Tatar.
Matt Duchene is a big addition and gives the Predators another top-line forward and hopefully someone who can help fix their awful power play. But to get him they had to dump P.K. Subban’s entire contract, which meant they received almost nothing for him. They have plenty of depth on defense, and they did need forward help. I just don’t know if they are a significantly better team today than they were before that sequence of transactions.
Just a fantastic offseason for general manager Ray Shero. He drafted Jack Hughes No. 1 overall after winning the draft lottery, picked up P.K. Subban for next to nothing, got Nikita Gusev from Vegas for a couple of draft picks and signed Wayne Simmonds to an intriguing one-year deal in free agency. Those are some massive additions to the roster while not having to give up anything of significant value. The only negative is they did nothing to address the goaltending, and that is what will make or break their season. The pressure will be on to make the playoffs, not only to justify all of the big offseason moves but also to help convince Taylor Hall to re-sign with the team before he hits unrestricted free agency next summer.
The good news is they kept all of their key free agent forwards (Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, and Jordan Eberle). The bad news is they could not keep the most important player to last year’s success, starting goalie Robin Lehner, and instead replaced him with a more injury-prone and likely inferior player in Semyon Varlamov. They also did nothing to actually add to an offense that was near the bottom of the league a year ago. This season will be a big test to see if the Islanders' surprising success a year ago was actually about Barry Trotz’s defensive system or if it was about unsustainably good goaltending.
It was a huge offseason for the Rangers that saw them sign the top free agent (Artemi Panarin), add a top-four defender ( Jacob Trouba), a potential top-four defender (Adam Fox) and a potential superstar (Kaapo Kakko) thanks to a huge draft lottery win that got them the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. Panarin is one of the league’s best offensive players and still in the prime of his career, and when combined with the arrival of Kakko and 2018 first-round pick Vitali Kravtsov the Rangers suddenly have an influx of high-end talent on their roster. They may not be a playoff team just yet, especially in a tough Metropolitan Division, but their rebuild is well on its way to producing results.
The name of the game in Ottawa right now is simply about reducing salary; nothing else. There are some intriguing young players here, especially Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot, but the rest of the team is in shambles. They have no long-term commitments to almost anyone, and there is little evidence to believe that ownership will invest in keeping or improving this core. No team in the NHL seems to be further from the Stanley Cup than this one.
Chuck Fletcher has given Flyers ownership the type of aggressive general manager they wanted as he has worked to reshape the roster. But are they any better? Trading for Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun on defense is something that would have been a great idea four years ago, and they gave Kevin Hayes a seven-year, $50 million contract that seems destined to end in a buyout or trade in a few years. They still have Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier, and Carter Hart might finally solve their goaltending woes, but this seems like a pretty mediocre team. Hart’s development will determine if they can be anything more than that.
For the second year in a row, general manager Jim Rutherford handed out an absurd long-term contract to a depth player (six years for Brandon Tanev). The Pens also did nothing to address their defense and replaced Phil Kessel with a lesser version of him in Alex Galchenyuk. As long as they have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Matt Murray and Jake Guentzel they are going to have a chance to contend for a championship, but they have not done a good enough job building around that core over the past couple of years.
The big win for the Sharks this offseason was keeping Erik Karlsson and, to a lesser extent, Joe Thornton. With Karlsson back in the mix they still have the most intimidating top-three on defense in the league with him, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The big loss will be Joe Pavelski moving on to Dallas, as he leaves a huge void on and off the ice, but this is still a really good team. The thing that should concern Sharks fans is the front office again did nothing to address the goaltending situation, which was the team’s biggest Achilles' heel a year ago.
It was a mostly quiet offseason for the defending champs. They lost Patrick Maroon, but most of the championship roster is back in place. They also did a great job handling a tricky contract negotiation with starting goalie Jordan Binnington, getting him signed to a fair deal that also will not hurt them if his play regresses at all. They did not need to do a lot because this is a really good team that was always better than it looked at the start of the 2018-19 season when it stumbled out of the gates.
They picked up a future first-round pick from the Vancouver Canucks for J.T. Miller, and given the state of the Canucks organization that could end up being a decent pick. While Miller leaves a bit of a hole at forward, they made a couple of smart depth signings by picking up Pat Maroon and Kevin Shattenkirk following his buyout from the New York Rangers. Brayden Point’s contract has been an issue as he is one of the many restricted free agents who remained unsigned all summer, but it will get taken care of eventually. This is still, on paper, the best team in the league.
Another summer with a messy RFA contract negotiation (this time with Mitch Marner), but there is a lot to like about the rest of the offseason. Trading Nazem Kadri was probably something that had to happen given how much he cost them in two consecutive postseasons, and they managed to get a huge upgrade on defense with Tyson Barrie coming back in return. An underrated part of that trade was the inclusion of Alexander Kerfoot. With Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Kerfoot and Jason Spezza the Leafs still have an incredible quartet of centers down the middle and have a better defense.
Trading a future first-round pick for J.T. Miller. Signing Tyler Myers for five years. None of these moves fits in with a team that should still be rebuilding for the future. Instead, the Canucks smell of a general manager trying desperately to sneak in the playoffs one time. Given that Jim Benning was rewarded with a contract extension, it seems to be working for him personally. It probably will not work as well for the team on the ice. Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Quinn Hughes are a strong trio to build around, but the supporting cast around them is not good enough.
The Knights are still a Stanley Cup contender in the Western Conference, but losing Colin Miller and not getting a chance to see what they had in Nikita Gusev is a disappointment. This is a case where overpaying some depth players cost them a couple of players who could have potentially made a bigger impact. They are good, but are they as good as they could be?
Radko Gudas gets himself into trouble by crossing the line physically, and that could be a volatile mix with Tom Wilson up front. But he is a better player at this point than Matt Niskanen, so that is a nice upgrade to the defense. Other than that it was a mostly quiet offseason for the Capitals other than dealing away Andre Burakovsky and making a couple of depth signings. The real test for the Capitals will be throughout the season and into next summer when they have to make big decisions on potential free agents Niklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby.
The Jets were clearly broken in the second half of the 2018-19 season and fizzled out early in the playoffs. The entire offseason saw them subtract from their blue line, trading Jacob Trouba and losing Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot to free agency. Those are a lot of minutes to replace, and they did not really do anything to fill those spots. The worst development, though, is Patrik Laine being non-committal on wanting to stay with the team long term as his (and Kyle Connor’s) restricted free agent negotiations drag on.